That staccato rattling you would hear when riding around corners in my 2002 WRX wagon was not a German machine gun. It was my wheel, bouncing off the pavement, no longer held there by the force of the struts. The squeaking was not a meeting of the Chipmunk Parliament behind my bumper. It was a tired suspension. I needed to do some work, and quickly, or I was probably going to spin off of an exit ramp and thoroughly test the safety features which I’d used to convince my mother to co-sign for this car.
Thankfully, I did, and this article is not about what it feels like to get a haymaker from an airbag. Subaru struts are famously youthful, generally lasting around 100,000 miles before needing replacement. Mine, however, had never been refreshed after almost 140,000 miles, and were rightfully requesting retirement. It was duly given.
A generous friend got the ball rolling when he gave me a full set of stock STi springs, which are stiffer than WRX springs, and a 30k pair of front struts and top hats for free, claiming he just wanted them out of his garage. New, they would have set me back around $300.
My friend/co-worker/and Impreza mentor Danny volunteered his time and well-equipped garage to show me the ropes, and we got started last Saturday. Now, the struts I’d been given were from an ’05 car, which has a different setup from an ’02, and needed to be slightly modified to fit. Many forum members will decry strut modding as sacrilege, and this job has been dangerously done in the past, but we were playing things by the book.
I set to grinding out the bottom holes on the bolt brackets while Danny got started zipping out the rear struts, which needed no modification at all. I’d chosen a pair of KYB struts for the rear, since the wagon is a daily driver and not a track car or autocross beast (yet). And also because their cost wouldn’t leave me a penniless urchin. I felt even better about this when I found out that KYB was Subaru’s factory supplier in 2005.
Danny finished pulling off the rear struts and found me still grinding on the first hole, chewing through Harbor Freight stone rotary bits like they were Cocoa Puffs. I detonated 3 or 4 of them before we decided to try the drill press. This worked for a while until the chuck came loose. I think this job is discouraged on the forums not because it’s unsafe, but because these brackets were made of Superman’s teeth.
So we cruised out to Danny’s parents’ house and he set to work. Left with the other strut, I was handed another electric grinder, but this was no Dremel. Basically a high-speed electric drill without a pistol grip, this thing, known as a “Sears Power Tool,” must have been 40 years old at least, picked up by Danny’s antique-savvy parents at an auction. Coupled with a carbide bit, it tore through the steal in short order.
By the time we made it back, we had just enough time to mount the new rear components (which have so much travel they don’t require a spring compressor to assemble) before the DST-deranged sun dipped below the horizon and I had to go. But my car was already more stable, and the Squirrel Parliament had adjourned.
I spent Thursday night fabricating the other main element of the front strut mount: the spacers. The 04-05 strut brackets are about 6mm wider than the knuckle on my wagon, requiring some strong, custom cut spacers. (According to some forum-sourced data, it was more like 10mm, but I’ll get to that.)
I bought some steel and set to work with a 20-pack of cutoff wheels and a surprisingly durable stepped drill bit from the ever-hit-and-miss Harbor Freight. I’m not exactly a CNC machine, but I thought they looked pretty good for my first fabrication job.
Looks aren’t everything. Danny and I soon discovered the measurement discrepancy, and I had to make a completely different set of spacers. Which I screwed up the first time, totally botching the lower hole placement. It was at least another hour before I had them right.
Another very generous guy, whom I’d never met, from our local Subaru forum, had given me a pair rear STi springs and top-hats, so Danny and I installed those, as well. After about 15 hours of work, I was sore, tired, and dehydrated (because you don’t think about those things when you have to re-re-drill a set of spacers), but I didn’t care. My car was fixed, safe, and even more awesome.
I didn’t stick around to shoot the breeze with Danny. He had a family to spend some time with, and I was late for an ugly sweater Christmas party at my house. The latter worked out pretty well, because when I walked in, everyone gasped at my state of composure. “You’re Pigpen from Charlie Brown!” said one guest. Yep, we’ll go with that.